The “Data Deluge” or “Science in the Archives”

The University of Chigaco Press 2017 published an interesting book: Science in the Archives, edited by Lorraine Daston. It shows that “the past can be a treasure trove of material vital to present and future research”: data banks assembled by geneticists; weather diaries trawled by climate scientists; libraries visited by historians. The book discusses episodes in the history of geology, genetics, philology, climatology, medicine, and more. Thoroughly exploring the practices, it “reveals the essential historical dimension of the sciences” including the use of Big Data. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Geschichte Digital – Historische Welten neu vermessen

Abbildung 1-1Guido Koller, Geschichte Digital – Historische Welten neu vermessen, Stuttgart, 2016

Die digitale Kommunikation prägt inzwischen das Berufsbild der Historiker entscheidend. Heute ist Norm, was vor 20 Jahren noch Ausnahme war: Historische Welten werden digital vermessen und analog interpretiert. Wie Historiker denken, lehren, schreiben ändert sich durch die Digitalisierung schon heute und wirkt auf das Schreiben von Geschichte zurück: Mit Algorithmen verarbeiten Forscher heute große Datenmengen, die völlig neue Perspektiven und Herangehensweisen an die historischen Quellen ermöglichen. Das Buch beschreibt den Stand des digitalen Wandels für die Geschichte als Teil der Geisteswissenschaften und diskutiert die Perspektiven über die Zukunft des Big Data in den historischen Wissenschaften. Ein Serviceteil, in dem Infrastrukturen, Portale, Tools, Standards und Blogs vorgestellt werden, ergänzt dieses Buch.

http://www.kohlhammer.de/wms/instances/KOB/appDE/Neuerscheinungen/Geschichte-digital-978-3-17-028929-1/

The digital communication characterizes the professional profile of historians. Today is standard, what, 20 years ago, was the exception: Past worlds are measured digitally and interpreted analogously. The digital change captures the production and communication of historical knowledge and affects the writing of history: With algorithms, we process large amounts of data and create a new digital information society, a network, a hybrid constellation of people and things. The book describes the state of the digital change for the History as part of the Humanities and discusses its further perspectives. It includes a service part, where infrastructures, portals, tools, standards and blogs are presented.

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Forget it !? Memory and the formation of historical meaning in the “broad presence”

Summary of my Intervention at the Colloquium of the University of Lucerne, Zeit-Geschichte-Unterricht, 7. November 2014

Link to the original german manuscript http://bit.ly/1svdpMg

The intervention wants to make the audience familiar with questions about the current understanding of time and its consequences for history. It examines the assumption of HansUlrich Gumbrecht, according to which we live in a “broad presence”. For that, the intervention presents 4 Tableaux from which it structures the material [1] for three theses. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Big Data in History

Patrick Manning, Big Data in History, London 2013

The author, Patrick Manning, is Professor of World History at the University of Pittsburgh. He pursues a big goal: As a Director of the Center for Historical Information and Analysis (CHIA) he wants to develop and build up a world wide historical archive, thinking that time has come to create a coherent record of human social change. He compares his project to those in climate modeling and genetic databases. The small book is an introduction into the project of the CHIA, that exists since 2007. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Did you ever want to know how historians work?

Anne Kwaschik, Mario Wimmer, Von der Arbeit des Historikers, Ein Wörterbuch zu Theorie und Praxis der Geschichtswissenschaft, Bielefeld, 2010 (Histoire Band 19)

Review

How do historians work? At the desk with paper, French historian Lucien Febvre answered this question laconic. He did no longer believe to get facts by reading texts, turned away from the “bookish history” towards a “science of man”. It should be interdisciplinary and team-oriented, just in line with the intention of the editors of the dictionary to be discussed. Therefore, we find here keywords, which have been worked by geographers, sociologists and philosophers and, naturally, historians. It is the result of an effort that has been taken place in a workshop (Marc Bloch), the modern workplace in historical research. In this “production space” (Richard Sennett) technical skills are being taught. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Digital History. Ready made.

Peter Haber, Digital Past, Geschichtswissenschaft im Digitalen Zeitalter, München 2011

Review

“What happens to the historiography in the digital age”, Peter Haber, Basel University, wants to know. His concern is primarily about three things: The origins of electronic data processing in the historical sciences, the changing of the production of historical knowledge and the emerging of a new “Workshop of the Historian” (Marc Bloch). Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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The Big Now

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Unsere breite Gegenwart, edition suhrkamp, 2010

Review with respect to digital humanities (presumably unexpected for H. U. Gumbrecht; see below)

What does it mean for the writing of history, if documents with a simple click pop up on the screen, thus basically are always present? Wolfgang Schmale and Kiran Klaus Patel have asked this. Another, who deals with this question is Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht. He writes of himself to be a stubborn man, to have pointed out since 40 years now, that things have a “dimension of presence” in the world. “Presence”, that means physical proximity and substance. Gumbrecht developed this idea in his beautiful book “In 1926”, an attempt to convey the feeling of being in the year 1926 by a network of short, interconnected texts referring to everyday phenomena.

Gumbrecht pursues his idea in the tradition of cultural criticism that regrets the “loss of materiality” in the modern transcendental consciousness. Since 50 years a new “configuration of time” is replacing the “historical thinking” established in the 19thcentury, he says, and describes this (outdated) chronotope in the following perspectives: a) In the “historical time” a person moves on a linear timeline, in which time is the “absolute agent of change”; b) On his way through the time horizons, man constantly leaves past behind him. Thus, the future appears as an open horizon of possibilities; c) Between past and future the present is a moment of transition. This short passage was the “epistemological habitat” of modern man: He acted as he chose from the possibilities of the future based on his experience. By the way: Gumbrecht took this concept of time from Reinhart Kosellek (see below).

So, according to Gumbrecht, this chronotope is passé: The future would no longer be an open horizon of possibilities, the past not pass away (anymore) and the presence with its synchronicities grow ever wider: We live in the Big Now (Frédérique Kaplan). Globalization is one of the basic conditions for this development. In it, the exchange of information is disconnected from real physical sites. Thus, the body as a part of the human self-reference would be “eliminated” [sic!].

Remark / Interjection: In return, movements would arise, which attempt to regain the physical dimension. These include the triumph of sport, the trend towards regionalization (in Europe) and the ecology. I do not deal with these counter-mouvements, here.

Google plans to make accessible “any existing document on the planet”, Gumbrecht says. Collecting and preserving records in a library or an archive will be obsolete in the digital age. They will permanently be available on any computer. Historians will have to make a selection from the abundance of materials – such as a curator, a cultural producer who knows how knowledge and objects must be “staged” to get attention from the public.

* * *

Time-forms determine the conditions under which we make our experiences – to this, see my post on Niklas Luhmann and his system analytic concept of time. By 1800, in what is known as Sattelzeit by Reinhart Kosellek , the chronotope “historical time” has been formed. It has been problematized by Jean-François Lyotard in „La condition postmoderne“. Today, so it seems, according to Gumbrecht,  we have left this chronotope behind us. A new concept of time as a basic condition for the formation of experience seems to come up. Gumbrecht does not go much further into that. He only tells us, that we are  flooded with memoirs and things from the past. In the same time we are moving in more and more everyday worlds and networks. And: We are surrounded by a repertoire of symbols and structures that are derived from the communication technology.

This “hyper-communication” erodes the form in which we have given our everyday life a form. The structure and tension that lived by the existential contradiction between the presence and the absence is dissolved. Gumbrecht denies, with Michael Giesecke but against Charles Leadbeater, that electronic debates create new good ideas. The reason: Only the physical presence allows real argumentative resistance that could turn into mutual inspiration. Gumbrecht therefore rejects blogs quite vehemently (in June 2012 he talked about blogging in an interview with Mareike König).

* * *

Is Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s critique of the disappearance of the future simply melancholy? No, not all. The diagnosis of the “widening of the presence” seems plausible: Presence is no longer the knife that cuts off a piece of the future and assigns it to the past. Gumbrecht’s lucid essay refers to issues that arise particularly to historical science. The constant availability of information, the annihilation of time and space, change the “historical thinking” and with it the craft of the historians.

Bluntly, in line with Gumbrecht, the anamnesis of writing history is as follows: Information is no longer conveyed through intermediaries, but communicated directly from the producer to the consumers. Journalists quickly contextualize the information for the politically interested audience, curators later stage it for the culturally interested public. For historical work in the old way is not much space left.

But there are counter-examples: One of them comes from Gumbrecht himself and is the already-mentioned text-experiment “In 1926”. Another comes from Andreas Wirsching, Director of the Munich Institute for Contemporary History, who already submits a “standard work on the history of Europe since 1989” [sic!]. Wirsching “doesn’t fear actuality”, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung judges her review and so he won a lot: “A masterpiece of European historiography”, namely. And how did he manage this? Wirsching didn’t wait archival delays to elapse but drew from “seemingly limitless amounts of press archives, public official documents and current scientific analysis”.

So there is hope for the writing of history. But historians will have to adapt their old business model. Insofar the Digital Humanities could be part of the solution of the problem that we have created ourselves.

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Foucault revisited for the Digital Humanities

Michel Foucault, L’archéologie du savoir, Gallimard, 1969

Review with respect to digital humanities (avant la lettre)

Also historians have succumbed to the temptations of structuralism. For quite some time now, they have not been working with events anymore, but with developments, including those of longue durée, as Ferdinand Braudel has called them. Michel Foucault speaks of deposits, layers, which are being investigated: For example the history of the cereal or the gold mines, of starvation or growth. In such a history we are no more talking about chains of events, but about series types and periodization. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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WikiLeaks: Documents, Journalism and History

WikiLeaks und die Folgen, Die Hintergründe. Die Konsequenzen, Berlin 2011

Review with respect to Digital Humanities

The scenario could be that of a spy novel: Hackers publish hundreds of thousands of secret and confidential documents of the US and other governments. Who is going to evaluate and interpret all this information? What are the motives for this action? What are the consequences of the affair? Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Contemporary History in Digital Era: The Concerns of Kiran Klaus Patel

Kiran Klaus Patel, Zeitgeschichte im Digitalen Zeitalter, in: Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Heft 3, Juli 2011, Page 331ff.

Review with respect to digital humanities

Who is going to archive the text messages from German Chancellor Angela Merkel? The sources and their availability for the historical research are subject to a profound change. Kiran Klaus Patel, historian at the Maastricht University, calls for a fundamental debate about the foundations of contemporary history. The question arises as to the relevance of his ideas for the digital humanities. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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We think: Charles Leadbeater and the Digital Humanities

Charles Leadbeater, We-think, Mass innovation, not mass production: The Power of Mass Creativity, London, 2009 (Updated Version)

Review with respect to digital humanities

Charles Leadbeater is an authority on creativity in organizations in the English-speaking world. In particular he worked on knowledge-driven innovation strategies. Leadbeater is inter alia Member of the influential London think-tank Demos and the Oxford University’s Said Business School. He is considered an important supporter of the Pro-Am [ateur] revolution. The question arises as to the relevance of his ideas for the digital humanities. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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